CLEVELAND — Anyone still worried about how the Yankees finished the regular season?
Didn’t think so.
Backing up exactly what they said they would do — flip a switch once the postseason began — the fifth-seeded Yankees now and forever shoved aside their head-scratching play down the stretch in which they lost six of eight games.
They instead came to Progressive Field and, getting a key game-tying sacrifice fly in the ninth from Gary Sanchez and go-ahead RBI single by DJ LeMahieu, swept fourth-seeded Cleveland out of the postseason with a wild 10-9 victory in Game 2.
The victory sends the Yankees into the best-of-five Division Series in San Diego against their AL East rival, the Rays, who won eight of the 10 ultra-tense games between the clubs — who all but despise each other — this season.
Game 1 is Monday.
"That game was a lot of fun to be a part of. I’m 47 years old, I’ve watched a lot of baseball, been in a lot of big games, I don’t know how you top that one," said Aaron Boone, who hit a somewhat famous walk-off homer in an insane seventh game of the 2003 ALCS vs. Boston. "The back-and-forth, the amount of big moments at the plate by different guys. We’re excited in that room. Excited to continue our quest to try and win a championship."
It was an almost indescribable journey Wednesday night that got the Yankees to San Diego, a crazy, back-and-forth, 4-hour, 50-minute game — the longest nine-inning game in MLB history — whose start was delayed nearly an hour and then was delayed an additional 33 minutes with one out in the bottom of the first inning when a flash rainstorm moved in off nearby Lake Erie.
Aroldis Chapman, who came on with none out in the eighth after Jonathan Loaisiga walked the first two hitters of the inning, allowed a bloop single, on a first-pitch 95-mph fastball, to Cesar Hernandez to make it 9-8.
But the Yankees rallied against Cleveland closer Brad Hand, one of many ineffective relievers to appear in the game.
Hand walked leadoff man Giancarlo Stanton, who homered for the second straight game in the second, to start. Gio Urshela, whose grand slam in the fourth gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead and who started a key inning-ending double play to end the eighth to keep it a one-run deficit, singled to move pinch runner Mike Tauchman to second. Gleyber Torres hit a chopper that Hand mishandled, loading the bases for Brett Gardner, who got ahead 3-and-1 but struck out. Sanchez, pretty much awful all year at the plate, hit a sacrifice fly to center, bringing in Tauchman to tie it at 9 (Sanchez’s two-run homer in the sixth had given the Yankees an 8-6 lead).
LeMahieu, MLB’s batting champion this season with a .364 average but 0-for-4 with a walk when he came up in the ninth, delivered an RBI single up the middle to make it 10-9, eliciting yet another eruption from the Yankees' dugout in which every player was perched on the top step.
In the bottom of the inning, Chapman struck out Austin Hedges after Oscar Mercado reached on a strike-three passed ball to end it at last.
"That was one of the best games I’ve ever played in my life," Urshela said.
Of Urshela’s diving stop to start the eighth-inning double play, Chapman said: "Really, I think he saved the game there. At least one run comes in [if he doesn’t stop it]. An amazing play."
By game’s end, both starters were long forgotten, though not the weather they pitched in.
Masahiro Tanaka allowed four runs in the split first inning — he gave up one run before the delay and three after it — and allowed six runs total in four-plus innings, the highest postseason total of his career. Tanaka, a free agent after the season, came in 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA in eight previous playoff starts.
After Chad Green allowed two inherited runners to score on a Jose Ramirez double in the fifth, which tied it at 6, Sanchez, batting ninth in his return to the lineup, swatted a wind-aided, two-run homer to right-center in the sixth to give the Yankees the lead.
But Zack Britton, who got out of a two-on, one-out jam in the bottom of the sixth, walked Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes back-to-back with two outs in the seventh.
Sandy Alomar, managing in place of Terry Francona, who has been ill, surprisingly sent up righty Jordan Luplow to pinch hit for the lefty-swinging Josh Naylor — 5-for-7 to that point of the series. Boone, having lost trust in Adam Ottavino, countered by calling on Loaisiga. The righty got ahead 0-and-2 before Luplow launched a 1-and-2 curveball to center, the two-run double tying it at 8.
The game started under windy and wet conditions, though it didn’t hurt Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco, who retired the Yankees in order on 17 pitches.
But as Cleveland leadoff man Francisco Lindor stepped in, conditions quickly deteriorated, with sheets of rain — blown left, right and center by winds that howled up to 30 mph. Tanaka got Lindor to ground sharply to short, but Hernandez sliced a double to left and Ramirez, an AL MVP candidate, yanked an RBI double down the rightfield line on a 0-and-2 splitter to make it 1-0. As Santana stepped in, umpires mercifully called for the tarp, visibility being what it was as the rain swirled.
"Extremely bad," Tanaka said of the conditions when he initially took the mound. "You get the ball from the umpire, it’s already soaking wet. You’re not really able to throw in that situation."
Though the conditions were better after the delay, Tanaka was not. But Carrasco, who had a 1.65 ERA over his last six starts of the season, wasn’t sharp either, allowing four runs, two hits and three walks over three innings. He was the beginning of a parade of seven Cleveland pitchers, with the Yankees scoring at least one run against five of them.
"Regular season is over," Sanchez said through his interpreter. "Whatever happened in the regular season at this point doesn’t matter. That’s the thing about the playoffs — everyone starts from zero. It’s a matter of focusing and doing your job."
Job done in Cleveland. On to San Diego.